It's time to play "What 10 Historical Figures Would You Invite to Dinner?"
I love to play the game where you host an imaginary dinner party and invite 10 guests from the past to join you for an evening of provocative conversation. Over the years, since I’ve been writing historical fiction and historical nonfiction (often getting novel ideas after researching the lives of royal figures for my nonfiction books), I’ve amassed several of these hypothetical guest lists. The stickiest wicket for me has always been: when someone fascinates me, do I invite their partner as well?
So, in no particular order of importance, here’s one of my 10 Historical Figures at a Dinner Party List:
From my novel TOO GREAT A LADY, the lady herself, Emma Hamilton, and her inamorata, England’s greatest naval hero nonpareil, Lord Horatio Nelson.
From my historical nonfiction title ROYAL ROMANCES, Grigory Potemkin—possibly the sexiest royal paramour ever, and one of the most powerful, given the viceroyship of eastern Russia by Catherine the Great, who may (or may not) have secretly become his wife. And because she was one of the two most powerful and influential women in the world at the time (the other being Marie Antoinette’s mother Empress Maria Theresa), and staged a coup to capture the throne of Mother Russia, and had a marriage from hell and grabbed life with both hands and lived it on her terms while ruling the largest territory in the world, Catherine the Great.
From BY A LADY, the woman who published her own maiden novels as such and who influenced my life so much, Jane Austen. Miss Austen needs a date, and although I’ve never written about him, I’ve acted in his plays so many times and remain fascinated by the mind that penned them: William Shakespeare. I’m not certain any author’s Dinner for 10 Historical Figures can be complete without the Bard of Avon.
And because I’d like to give Catherine the Great the opportunity to converse with another uber-powerful female monarch who did it her way, I’d invite Elizabeth I, whose did-they-or didn’t they- relationship with Robert Dudley I wrote about in ROYAL AFFAIRS. So, if course, her “bonny Robin” would be the last guest on this list of 10. Would Elizabeth give any hints of something more between them in the presence of Catherine who would probably be fairly openly flirting with Potemkin? Jane Austen is on record as disliking Elizabeth I, preferring by far her Catholic cousin to the north, Mary, Queen of Scots. So that should make things interesting. And, observing his fellow guests, Shakespeare might come up with some intriguing material. can't you see Nell Gwyn angling for a role and Shakespeare's reaction to a female on the stage? With her skills at mimicry, she'd probably run through a dozen or so of his comic monologues at rapid fire speed to delight the rest of the guests. Jane Austen adored the theatre. What would she make of this--and the chance to sit down and chat with Shakespeare? And would he try to finagle more commissions with Her Majesty right at his elbow?
Queen Elizabeth was passionate about enlarging the royal navy. So, too, were Charles II and Catherine the Great. In fact Potemkin did so on her behalf for Russia and was then accused of inventing warships, even after an actual tour of the Crimea, comprised of an international committee, saw the vessels with their own eyes. I wonder what strategic pointers Admiral Nelson might give them.
Would Dudley and Potemkin end up having a private chat over tobacco and brandy, discussing the pitfalls and perils of having to keep their romances with the most powerful woman in the world a secret, while Emma and Nell compare notes on what it's like to be the mistress of their era's greatest hero, when -- sigh -- there's at least one other woman in the picture as well!
Who would be on your Dine with Dead People Historical Supper for 10? And why?